A new study from the University of Oxford Saïd Business School has found significant differences between men and women’s ability to cooperate in anonymous situations, and Saïd Associate Professor Nir Vulkan, who conducted the study with researcher Sabrina Artinger, says the findings could have wider implications for women in finance.
The study’s authors wanted to learn more about how people make decisions now that work is largely online and many interactions take place via email or other electronic systems, Vulkan says. Previous studies had focused on a very small number of people — usually two to three — so he and Artinger wanted to know what would happen if the number were more realistic, and how age, personality, attitude toward risk, and gender might affect the ability to work via cooperation.
“Our research shows that women cooperate better than men in anonymous interactions,” Vulkan says. “This is similar to what we see in crowd investing and in FinTech, where there are many more women compared with traditional finance. Our research could help to explain this difference.”
ONLY GENDER MATTERED
The study was run with 135 participants using OXlab, an online platform used for social science experiments. Each participant was assigned an account with money and was asked to play six rounds of a game.
In each round of the game, participants would decide whether to invest the money in a group project. If two-thirds of the group or more participated, they would gain a profit. But if fewer than two-thirds participated, those who did would lose money.
The results showed that women were significantly more likely than men to trust their fellow participants by investing, Vulkan says.
“We thought gender might be an issue, (so) we looked at things like age, personality and attitude to risk,” he says. “We found that none of these factors matters except gender, and that gender matters a lot. Women are willing to cooperate in large groups a lot more than men.”
Vulkan says he hopes the findings will help people better understand risk attitudes in the genders, which, he says, were thought for many years to be the main cause of differences in behavior and career patterns.
“In terms of finance, there is, as you know, a revolution going on — I am referring to FinTech,” he says. “The finance industry — the largest industry in the world in terms of monetary value — is being radically rethought, and redesigned, based on technology.”
A large part of this, he says, is crowd-based: crowd investing, crowd peer-to-peer lending, and more. He hopes the study will shed light on behavior in these crowd-based situations.
“The emergence of the FinTech sector and online investment platforms has leveled the playing field for women,” Vulkan says.